Works-in-progress: Pages of an Autumn Journal, by M E Grey

What are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

‘Pages of an Autumn Journal’ is a series of poems I wrote in late 2016, and I am now posting them at www.autumnjournal.eu. They’re going up one at a time, a year after they were written, and the last one will go up at the end of December – so take a look, and do come back.

IMG_5994The title ‘Pages of an Autumn Journal’ originally applied to a pair of poems I wrote at the start of October 2016 – as if they could be leaves torn from a larger diaristic work, such as Louis Macneice’s Autumn Journal, which reflected on personal and public events during the autumn of 1938.  I then found myself persistently thinking about that title, and realised that I could collect a larger group of poems from that period together (that first pair now go untitled).

Macneice’s work is very engaged with political matters, yet from the perspective of an individual living within them, rather than as persuasion. I am not trying to directly equate 2016 and 1938 (a recent lecture by David Runciman details how this decade is not like that one), but last year there was certainly a feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.

As a poet of British origin living in Brussels, this means living through the aftermath of terror attacks and the UK’s EU referendum; it means living in a town where people are trying, with and on behalf of a diverse continent, to come up with solutions for youth unemployment and the human consequences of geopolitical instability. Dealing with these ‘issues’ coexists with the experience of just getting on with life – and this quotidian aspect provides at least as much focus for the collection.

Who would be in your opinion the perfect audience for this?

Posting these poems one year later means that the pieces have had some time to breathe – yet they are still very recent. I hope that readers may be able to relate them to their own responses to some of the situations described, and also realise how things have changed in the time since. The poems are, together, a document from a particular time and viewpoint. Thus, while some readers might feel they have more in common with the narrative voice than others (for example if you live in Brussels, if you travel for work, or if you closely follow current affairs), they are intended for general consumption and not just people ‘like’ the narrator.

That said, I also hope the poems are of interest to people who can recognise aspects of themselves in the work – the number of people who proactively read poetry is tiny, so I hope people can come to the poems through interest in the content, as well as the form.

You have read some parts of it in BWC meetings. Did you find the feedback useful

Definitely. There is certainly a sense of validation when you get good feedback, but perhaps more important is to see people reacting to the poems in different ways.

Sometimes people ‘get’ what you first meant, but that isn’t the purpose of writing: a diversity of responses demonstrates the ways that a work can actually continue to exist. The feedback from the group helps me to develop my sense of what I am doing as a writer, and give me the confidence to put effort into disseminating this particular project.

If you could pick one celebrity to read out one of your poems, which poem/celebrity would it be?

I just want people to read them. I want you to read them – and why not start at the beginning. If I try and explain this impulse to myself, then I can use that idea of the poems as documentation or reportage – perhaps to serve the purpose of increased mutual understanding, integral to literature. But who really knows what it is that makes people write?

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Works-in-Progress: Plums Taste Different Here

WIPSarahHPhotoThe Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this new segment, we interview Sarah Harris about her current masterpiece-in-the-making.

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s a novel called ‘Plums Taste Different Here’. It is contemporary fiction, similar to ‘The Road Home’ by Rose Tremain. I got the title from an Afghan refugee I got to know in Petit Chateau (a reception centre in Brussels for asylum seekers, web site here in French or in Dutch) who told me that he missed the fruit from his country because it tasted so different here.

Where and when does the action take place?

It’s set in present day Aberdeen and is about Malcolm, a middle-aged forester, who takes in a young Afghan asylum seeker called Jawid. Alma, an enthusiastic community worker, has set up a scheme pairing asylum seekers with people who have a spare room in their house and Malcolm is the first unwitting candidate. Since the death of his mother, Malcolm has led a solitary life and is more at ease with trees than with people. The authorities have decided Jawid is over 18 and therefore has to leave the children’s home where he’s been staying and is no longer eligible to have his family brought over here. Over time an unusual friendship is forged between Malcolm and Jawid but, unknown to Malcolm, Jawid is being blackmailed by a previous contact from the children’s home. In desperation Jawid decides to leave the country, but Malcolm isn’t willing to abandon him to his fate …

Aberdeen on a typically sunny day (honest!)

Aberdeen on a typically sunny day (honest!)

You were obviously inspired by current events in coming up with the storyline of this novel, can you tell us more about that?

WIPSarahHRefugeesI run poetry workshops and teach English to refugees in Petit Chateau and this last year there has been a huge increase of asylum seekers. In particular young people, mostly from Afghanistan, who arrive here without their families, and attempt to build a new life here. I have recently undertaken a training course to become a guardian for young non-accompanied asylum seekers, so have learnt more about their situation and how refugee policy works in Belgium. This all inspired me to write this story.

Which, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

I guess you could say that there’s element of voyage and return and also rebirth in the story. Basically it’s about an encounter between two very different people with very little in common and how this encounter shapes and changes them. And hopefully there’s humour in it too.

How long have you been working on it?

I started it a while ago as a short story but have only been working on it as a novel these last few months.

A work of great length?

No – maybe around 75000 words.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

I’ve just finished chapter five so I’ve a long way to go. The two main characters have only just met each other. I usually take a few years to write a novel, but I hope this one won’t take so long.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?

The BWC is a great source of inspiration – reading out gives me a deadline to work to and the feedback is always really useful. The main feedback I have got so far is that people want to read on, so I need to carry on writing. It’s really important for me to have people believe in it.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

I think it’s suitable for everyone but not everyone will be interested. There’s a lot of negative press about migration and you almost never hear about the possibilities and enrichment it can offer. There’s a sense of us and them about the issue, when in fact we are all economic migrants. Hopefully this will turn into a funny and uplifting story about it.

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

Two unknowns – an Afghan asylum seeker and an unemployed Scot – who will both become rich and famous by acting in it!

Thanks and good luck with the current draft!

WIPSarahHEinstein

Works-in-Progress: Lionskin

LidaBlogPhotoThe Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this continuing segment, we interview member Lida Papasokrati about her current masterpiece-in-progress.

 

 

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s a short story called Lionskin, and it’s a fantasy retelling of the myth of Hercules.

Lionskin wearing his eponymous coat

Lionskin wearing his eponymous coat

Where and when does the action take place?

All the action takes place in a ”faraway kingdom, a long time ago”. Even though in the myth the adventures of Hercules take place in ancient Greece, I wanted to give my version a bit of a fairy tale feel by being vague about the time and place.

Which, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

I’d say it’s a cross between ‘The Quest’ and ‘Rags to Riches’. Lionskin, the protagonist, is a just a boy from a village at the beginning of the story, but if he completes the twelve tasks he could become the next king, so I think there are elements of both plot types present.

 

Why a myth retelling, and why Hercules in particular?

LidaBlogGeryonI’m Greek and spent most of my childhood in Athens, so Greek mythology was all around me growing up. The myth of Hercules was never my favourite, though – I guess I just wasn’t impressed by a big strong man going around hitting things with a club!

But then, a few years ago, I read the myth again, and I realised that there were a lot of little details that weren’t that well known – such as the fact that the goddess Athena had helped Hercules in several of his labours. I thought, what if she wasn’t a goddess, but an actual human girl?

How long have you been working on it?

The story has been sitting in my head for about a year and a half and I would occasionally write down a scene or make notes, but I only started writing it ”for real” three months ago.

A work of great length?

For a short story, it’s actually on the long side – it’ll be over 12,000 words when it’s finished.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

I’m about halfway through and I’m reading out to the group as I write. This is technically a second draft I’m working on, but the first draft was much shorter, so I’m adding to it as a rewrite. Then, when it’s finished – I’m going to rewrite it again!

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work?

I don’t think I would have written the story if it hadn’t been for the BWC – not for a long time, at least! When I first joined the group back in January, I had a lot of story ideas (and a lot of notebooks filled with outlines, character names and first chapters!) but very little experience in actually writing – and finishing – a story. Reading and commenting on other people’s work has taught me a lot about the actual process of writing. And of course, getting feedback while I’m working on the story has been tremendous help!

This is Lida doing the rounds of the wards in her day job

This is Lida doing the rounds of the wards in her day job

What was the best feedback you got from the group?

I’ve received so many great tips and ideas from BWC members that it’s impossible to single out a particular one!

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

I think Elizabeth Henstridge or Gemma Arterton would be great for the part of the princess. As for Lionskin, for some reason in my head I’ve always pictured him as Eddie Redmayne!

Thanks and good luck!

Works-in-Progress: In Search of Y

DavidEllard1The Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this new segment, we interview chairperson David Ellard about his current masterpiece-in-progress.

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s an epic (and epic-sized) science fiction novel called ‘In Search of Y’.

Where and when does the action take place?

On the fictional planet Nile in the star system epsilon Eridani, about five hundred years in the future.

The_Seven_Basic_PlotsWhich, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

Oh number three, ‘The Quest’, without a doubt. My hero Jen Zo is searching for a bank of frozen sperm which (when unthawed I hasten to add) will allow an all-female space colony to have boy babies (Y-chromosome sperm, hence the Y of the title).

OK, pretend we’re a prospective agent or publisher and you have one sentence to sell us your work-in-progress. Give us that sentence.

The basic bouillon consists of sci-fi opera classic ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert mixed in with French feminist erotic thriller ‘Baise-moi’, then lightly seasoned with touches of ‘Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R. Tolkien and ‘Don Quijote’ by Miguel Cervantes.

How long have you been working on it?

Since November 2011 so not quite four years

A work of great length?

Yep. When I started I was worried it wouldn’t be long enough for a proper novel. Now that the completed first draft weighs in at 183,000 words I rather think I have the opposite problem.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

As I said, the first draft is done but now I have to take the voluminous feedback from the group, twist and tweak the plot, reinvent the start of the novel in particular to make it more exciting and immediate, and go rewrite.

Accumulated BWC members' feedback on my first draft in repose on my sofa

Accumulated BWC members’ feedback on my first draft in repose on my sofa

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work?

I got tremendous motivation from the pressure of having to present the chapters as I wrote them. Lots of great suggestions and ideas, and technical advice – my novel is very dialoguey but I learnt loads about how to try and break that up into more digestible sections.

What was the best feedback you got from the group?

Two examples stand out for me. One member told me a certain chapter reminded her of the ‘Three Witches’ scene from the play Macbeth. I liked the idea so much I am going to rewrite the chapter in the second draft with various direct references to that scene.

Secondly, several people told me to reimagine the swearwords current on my fictional planet to give greater authenticity. This I did and now my characters have an argot all of their own. Sadly, this is a family website and I am not at liberty to discuss what those terms are, but readers of my second draft will hopefully raise an eyebrow or two when the time comes.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

Children. The novel contains various scenes containing sex possibly not in the context of a warm and loving relationship. Oh and lashings of violence to boot.

epsilonEridaniWe assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

I can see Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker from the 90s/2000s ‘Rush Hour’ action comedy series playing the hero Jen Zo and his side-kick Olifah Tambo. For the Grand Mother, I was thinking Meryl Streep might like the part if I can give her a weird and challenging enough accent to master.

Thanks and good luck with the second draft!